Ravi Shankar

😶, 💩, 😞: Ravi Shankar


Condemned to be a nymph upon marshy
waters in the realm of the speechless,
knowing and seeing what cannot be said
aloud for each word is an approximation

that fails to capture the scandalous beauty,
the blunt force trauma, the better stay
out of it, the void that avoids being spoken.
Throw thorns that morph midair to petals

in my silence. Peer inside the prison gates,
dark hands braid another brother’s dreads.
Stuck with an unpaid bail, railroaded, alone,
even in the constant company of other bids,

playing spades with a loaded deck, losing
again and again, losing the will to speak
even the Lord’s name in vain. The human
stain radiates so much goddamned pain.

I’d rather not. No. Don’t believe my eyes.


Funky old Dutch Erasmus, he of the sobriquet
“Prince of the Humanists,” dropped a little
Scarabaeus aquilam quaerit among his adages–
a dung beetle hunting an eagle–not an insult

but a compliment to scarab resourcefulness,
the way the coprophagous finds good taste
in another’s waste. Ah the fabled excrement
of the Middle Ages! Outside conventional,

sacred narrative space, the illicit and profane
are scripted: in the marginalia of a dead monk’s
manuscript, a flying disembodied monkey
ass shits plums into a nun’s basket. I don’t buy

the book subtitled Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s
Fecopoetics, though can recall the fabliau
of the “Miller’s Tale” where Absolon begged
Alison for a kiss and got instead a mouthful

of tossed salad. Those codpiece and fustian
doublet-wearing characters defecated in ways
we modern humans might never understand,
And satirist Jonathan Swift? Celia, Celia, Celia,

shits! How would dear Dean Swift have dead-
panned today, in a time when the sitting
President’s attorney once tried to shut down
the Brooklyn Museum because of Sensation,

an exhibit that included among the artworks
Chris Olifil’s The Holy Virgin Mary, remaking
Jesus’ mom as a black Madonna whose bared
breast was made from dried and varnished

elephant dung, set against a shimmering gold
background of what seem to be butterflies
but actually are women’s derrieres collaged
together from porno mags. The former mayor

who only glanced at the catalog, banned ferrets
from the five boroughs, blamed police brutality
on black parents, and now looks to have sidled
up to Ukrainians to rig an American election.

Travel to Japan instead, makers of the best
toilets in the world, where the kawaya kami,
or gods of the latrine, emanate good health,
where in manga like Dr. Slump and Dragon

Ball, the fecal speaks. What does it say?
Minna Unchi. A book translated into Everyone
selling millions of copies, embodying
a universal democratizing force: life, liberty,

and the pursuit of an easy bowel movement.
Tell the Unicode Consortium to put a happy
face on my mild disappointment, to bequeath
laxatives, prunes, colostomy bags–Life is shit.


When I heard about the millennials’ zeitgeist,
I put up my umbrella. Not because I needed

safe space, but precisely because the wilderness
had shrunk into a ferule that required a crook

handle. They wanted me not to remind them
of the weather I was protecting myself from.

That’s why I could never call them snowflakes.
They’re not aimless appearing, nor blizzards

of one, falling from Strand’s shadow of domes.
They’re buzzy snapchatting echo boomers

whose refresh rates still don’t cut down on lag.
Their kids will be found wearing head-mounted

displays and juddering from simulator sickness.
Call me an alarmist, turn me into the meme

of the old man yelling at the cloud. I still trigger
warnings about the dangers of bubble wrap

when it comes to foraging for wild mushrooms.
They’ll miss the satyr’s beard and bleeding tooth

blooming under the reverse globe of my teardrop.
That’s all I’m trying to say but they don’t hear me.

Pushcart prize winning poet, editor, translator and professor Ravi Shankar has published, edited or has forthcoming over 15 books, including the Muse India award-winning translations of 9th century Tamil poet/saint, Andal, The Autobiography of a Goddess'(Zubaan/University of Chicago), The Golden Shovel: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks' (University of Arkansas), 'The Many Uses of Mint: New and Selected Poems 1997-2017 (Recent Works Press) and W.W. Norton's 'Language for a New Century' called "a beautiful achievement for world literature" by Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer. He currently holds an international research fellowship from the University of Sydney and his memoir 'Correctional' is forthcoming in 2021 with University of Wisconsin Press.